The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0448  Tuesday, 6 November 2012


From:        Steve Urkowitz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 6, 2012 2:19:02 PM EST

Subject:     Whack-a-mole, anyone?


I’m pleased, puzzled, and a little dismayed by Gerald Downs’ response to my essay, “Did Shakespeare’s Company Cut Long Plays Down to Two Hours Playing Time” in the most recent issue of SHAKESPEARE BULLETIN (30, 2012) 239-62.  


If he had written only this line, “I agree with Steve that longer plays were acted essentially as written” then we’d have gone out for a pizza and traded Textual Scholarship jokes. That’s all I wanted to prove in this essay, one more brick in a wall of evidence I’m building to separate the reasonable from the unfounded speculations about these early scripts.   But he found other chunks he disagrees with.


For example, he claims: “There can be no real doubt that the corrupt texts derive from plays nearer to the better texts.” 


First, I have to stress that my goal in this essay was to counter the hypothesis that ALL of Shakespeare’s long plays were cut down for performance. I didn’t offer any evidence about sources for the shorter versions of plays like Q1 Romeo and Juliet. The more modest goal was to show evidence that some plays were longer than two hours and need not have been cut down to that length. As part of my conclusion I said only that those textual arguments which depended on the shorter texts as being derived from the longer ones should be re-examined.


But ““There can be no real doubt “is a debater’s trick that gives the appearance of certainty without the obligation for further evidence or argument on the order of “There can be no real doubt” that the Earth is flat. or “There can be no real doubt” that Democrats are engaging in voter fraud.  But important, consistently-structured and patterned textual variants he ascribes to “corruption” could with greater likelihood arise from different sources found in related documents such as authorial manuscripts. (Downs’s favored sources, hypothetical, corrupt transcriptions from dictation, or shorthand, or from memory, however, do not account for any of the rich theatrical embrocation and varying connections to source material found among the “bad,” and the “good” quartos and the folio texts. But that’s not the issue in my essay under discussion.) 


Another problem: For R&J, he claims that “Q1 is the record of a performance, as a comparison of the prologues shows” Well, dears, Gerald can SAY that a comparison will show, but in order for standers-by to believe him he really should do the showing. (I always told my writing students, “If you want someone to believe what you believe, show them what you saw that made you believe it yourself.”) Maybe Q1 R&J indeed was performed as it appears in the printed text. Or a performance with quite different words and actions may have been badly transcribed and the transcriber accidentally and creatively came up with what we read in Q1.  


The proposed story I think Gerald believes of it being a record of performance, i.e., a transcription taken down by shorthand – or memorially reconstructed, or generated through a transcription of a  purposefully compressed Q2 text in order to reduce it into two hours traffic – though appealing to most editors including Lukas Erne, the most recent editor of Q1, is still quite shaky and requires us to buy into many subsidiary and unlikely hypotheses . (I’ve published some pieces of a longer study about the “bad” quartos which is now in the works, (and if I ever stop juggling dead fish with Jerry Downs I’ll get back to writing it.) Nevertheless, that whole kettle ain’t important to my essay.


Jerry asks, “What reason do actors have to speak quickly?” Ah. Here we’re at the aesthetics of performance.  Slow speech by actors of Shakespearean texts yields b-o-r-i-n-g performances. You like ‘em that way? Fine. But my experience as a director and as a member of audiences tells me that verbal quickness is a sign of lively performance. What reason do dancers make quick steps? why do musicians enjoy flighty arpeggios? Why not?


Jerry also suggests that the corruption of the early printed versions is proven because “Shakespeare’s “fellows” denounced the published texts.” But the “stolne and surreptitious copies” stuff from the Folio preliminary pages represent a jaunty appeal by Heminges and Condell to encourage purchases, not a true avowal or declaration that the earlier publications were all untrustworthy.  


But then Gerald Downs swings at one of the fine practitioners of our scholarly craft. He says: “Grace Ioppolo hasn’t identified any foul-paper text satisfying any definition, including her own.”  


This is where I have to get off this particular Bibliographic Train. I just ain’t interested in riding anymore with Jerry. Grace Ioppolo has done the tough and painstakingly detailed work of examining the documents. Here’s a sample: “Heywood’s 1624 autograph manuscript of his play The Captives is a foul-paper text that offers a full example of an author in the act of composition. Other foul-paper manuscripts also survive, although they have not always been recognized as such. . . . In his manuscript of The Captives, Heywood is obviously in the act of composing, not copying, unsure as he writes which characters will appear in which scene, at what point they will enter, what they will say, and even what relationship they will bear to one another (Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood, pp. 94-5). Her discussion is crystal clear, her illustrations abundant, and her conclusions consistent with the evidence she so generously provides.   


If Gerald Downs can’t see the virtue and validity in Grace Ioppolo’s work, then all I can do is recommend that we all look at Grace’s work and learn from it, And that we then turn to Gerald Downs derogation of her excellent scholarship and hold him up to the ridicule of the polis. Pugh!  


It’s Tuesday. Let’s go out and vote. Clear the air. Likely after the results are in I’ll come back with shovel and broom to continue cleaning up after the Textual Circus parade. That’s Show Biz.


Steve Bozowitz


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